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December 26, 2011

lying to the kids about santa

The Santa issue can be tough for parents. The dilemma is often presented as two choices: remove some of the fun and magic of childhood or possibly foster confusion and distrust in important spiritual matters. 

I doubt that believing in Santa as a child will automatically result in growing up into a God hater. Kids like to pretend. They mix things up all the time. Two of my boys attend Sunday school every week and still confuse Mary the mother of Jesus with Queen Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. I'm not afraid of them denouncing their faith when they find out that Queen Galadriel is not real.

But I am afraid of a few things:

Blowing the Santa issue out of proportion. I'm cool with Santa. Really, I have no problem with the guy, up to a point where fun turns into fiasco. I'm just not up for the effort of two parents keeping every word and deed straight when being cross examined times four (Claire can't talk yet). Have you tried planning stealth shopping trips and sneaking boxes and bags into the bedroom closet past 10 little eyes?

On the other hand, trying to steer completely clear of Santa or trash talking him for stealing the spotlight from Jesus requires just as much effort and explaining. I'm not up for that either. Kids are perceptive to see that slinging mud at others gets your own hands dirty. Besides, you can't run from Santa. Not in December. Which leads to my second fear.


I'm sorry, but I feel that actively promoting the whole Santa thing does come at a cost. Children and adults alike hold great potential for distraction from reflective waiting and celebration of God with us.

There were certainly presents under our tree and wild squeaks of excitement on Christmas morning. But we try to moderate it and steer clear of the big hype Santa focus that moves us toward the fatigued and frantic, perspective lacking cultural event that is opposite of anything remotely related to Jesus. By noon the typically cooperative and content children are suddenly fighting and asking for more, with the parents saying in unison, "I'm glad it's almost over."

Maybe other parents can pull off Santa in a more balanced and meaningful fashion. But this has been our experience. And it sickens us.

A few years back we decided to let it go. When a friend or relative wants to talk to the kids about Santa, they have all dealt just fine. But me? I can't keep track of who believes what at the moment and how they might best be approached. And so I've came up with the perfect solution.

As for me and my house, we will lie about Santa. 

No, really. When the issue arises, I play along fast and direct by speaking big fat lies, my face clearly speaking to each child what they need to hear.

Luke: So when do we open presents from Santa?

Me (With all eyes on, fairly sure that Luke doesn't believe, Owen and Ben probably do not, and Maggie really could care less at this point):

[Inhale deep, push out belly, retract head for double chin effect, put on old face and voice.]

"Well, I'll have to check my list twice, and run it past the chief elf, so that when all the children wake up on Christmas morning...hey, wait a minute, have youuu been a good boy this year?"

Luke: (smiles) Oh yes!

Me: Well then, what do YOU want for Christmas, little boyyyyyy?

And four children proceed to roll with laughter, squirm for their place in line to see Santa. I lift and place Luke across my lap, interview him in exaggerated tones. His visit culminates in getting plopped off the leg and heel shoved in the back, Christmas Story style, with Santa snickering "Ho. Ho....HO!"

The next child takes their place, and the fun continues, on and on squared, until Santa has finally had enough and must declare "Last child of the evening, Santa must catch the Polar Express to get back home for dinner." Each child gets what they need from their dad, along with affirmation on everything they know and need to know regarding Santa.

Speaking big fat lies about Santa keeps the magic and the sanity. Keeps the trust, the focus, and most certainly the fun.

ho     HO      HO 

December 22, 2011

the question

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Who stands before a 20-year old man, looks him in the eye, fires off the question at point blank range? 

"Do you believe in God?"

With no warning. No caution. No pretense. My curious, mostly innocent 5-year old son can pull that off.

It was just two days ago that Owen and I talked about how not everybody goes to church. Or even believes in God. We talked about how they're not all bad people either, or at least no worse than us. Like some of our family and friends. Whom we love.

I obliged his wide eyed need for names, answering with a string of"yes, no, I don't know." Which apparently did not rest well with the boy. And now he waits. Just stands there. Expecting nothing more or less than an answer. The young man replies.

"I'm really not sure...."

Owen flashes his shy smile, pauses to take in. He sees that this question of his is something important, wants to say more. But he turns away, head stand flops into the couch.

I stand to the side, surprised by it all. Owen stating a sincere question. Cory answering him gently and honestly instead of brushing him off or saying what he thought was right. I tell you that I have greater respect for both of those boys.

It turns out that Cory and I both have a hard time reconciling a God of love, purpose, and design with cold brutality and random suffering. Design? What of suicide and whirlwinds, terrorists and earthquakes? What of the creepy things of the natural world that were apparently designed specifically to inflict pain and death?

The truth is that sometimes, I'm really not sure. I want to avoid the whole issue. But head stand flops onto the couch don't cut it when you're a big boy.

I try to remember that living faithfully and consistently is a more meaningful and difficult thing than making claims about faith. I wait out the skepticism. Cozy up to uncertainty. The truth of the matter simply cannot hinge upon transient feelings and emotions that often seem to appeal to whatever side of the fence we're not on.

And in the mean time I choose to live faithfully.

It may be a glimpse of beauty in a smile, a scenic view, or a song that dislodges the doubt. It may be an obligation or a cry. Sometimes a hunch is all it takes.

I may catch wind from the scientists. They say that our universe had a beginning, a fact which seems to beg for a cause. I just don't have enough faith in nothing to believe that all this something came from nothing. With new understanding of the quantum world, the scientists and philosophers agree that freedom reigns throughout nature, from our collective conscious down through the smallest units of matter. And with true freedom comes the potential for pain and consequences, along with meaning, joy, and love.

Love, serving and unconditional? Where on earth did that come from? What is the agnostics answer to the problem of all - this - beauty? Our ideas of courage, truth, justice, and mercy? Why do we have some transcendent appeal for the way things are supposed to be, and cry tears or "no fair" when they are not so?

This lack of reasonable explanation for so many things, it pushes me back to faith. And I know, without a doubt, how this faith pushes me away from my tendency of a fearful, vanilla, self concerned suckah.

I was nearly moved to tears before going to bed, when Owen asked me to pray for Cory, our not really sure, honest friend. I wasn't exactly certain..., but we did thank God for the chance to experience this life with Cory. We prayed that we would be good friends to Cory, that all of us would have our eyes open to see.

And I can't shake it. Can't contain the meaning of a child's simple faith and care with an appeal to science or reason. Can you see how God is with Owen on this? Jesus did say that his kingdom, the very place where God dwells, belongs to such as these.


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December 02, 2011

pure and faultless

Wow. That was something. Too much to take in, to process. I'm unsure of all that is safe and necessary in terms of names when it comes to closed adoptions through a state foster system.

But today we flooded the Dauphin County Courthouse. Bum-rushed the show. With children - I believe there were 23 of them from five families. With a community of family and real, messy-life-with-you friends. With overwhelming joy.

There was a stereotypically snarky, playful attorney who brought doughnuts and drinks. There were cut flowers, fists holding the smell of spring, of new life. There was a call to order and a swearing in. There were questions under oath and tears and testimony from witnesses and a fidgety, sticky faced, petal pulling jury.

There were mouths hung agape and wide smiles, full frontal hugs, bonked heads on turn-stays, and reprimands about free-running in the courtroom. There were horse-play halting reminders of watchful police standing guard at the doors.

There was prayer, well thought words of a pastor that must have echoed straight through every chamber of that government entity. There was a beautiful, even gleeful man behind large sturdy mohagany; a judge who labeled this no small miracle and quoted chapter, number, and verse in his concluding remarks.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
      -Proverbs 31:8 

Why was this not plastered all over the news? Why are no mobs marching through the streets of Steelton, carrying full size cardboard cut-outs, repeating chorus cheers of pride and encouragement?

Portions of scripture specifically differentiates worthless Jesus talkers from the truly faithful based on what they do for orphans and widows. And if you don't prefer the works-based inspiration of James, other authors record Jesus talking about the same thing - true and false disciples. I wonder if this marks the line  between those who say "Lord, Lord," and those who do the will of God?

Please, this is no guilt push for everyone to adopt. There are plenty of ways to serve orphans and widows. It's just that you don't expect to walk into such an official, historical, and stark setting to experience that depth of community and prayers, laughter and chocolate milk. So much of that hour was unexpected to the extreme. Upside down (this family of 7 willingly bringing on two more). Maybe even heavenly.

Not that any of us entered into that court room to save our own souls or to get face time with Jesus. For sure, T and S are officially family now, already unconditionally loved. This life, with them, is certainly enough. 

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[I later shook hands and exchanged a few brief comments with the judge. He mentioned that this hearing was significant and quiet emotional for him, for in only a few days will two key players in the PSU child abuse scandal take to the same witness stand. "Stark contrast," are the words he repeated.]

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